Business Continuity in the Time of Illness

What you need to do as a sole or small firm practitioner

Business Continuity in the Time of Illness

On March 20, 2021, I (Adam) experienced massive bleeding in a critical part of my brain — the hypo-
thalamic region, which controls key functions like body temperature, hunger, and sleep cycles. Although I was generally healthy, I became incapacitated and lost my abilities for many basic life activities. For a long time, it was not clear that I would live, let alone practice law.

As a sole practitioner, if I had not planned for such an unforeseen event, my practice and my clients would have been gravely impacted. As it so happened, I was in the habit of contingency planning — and regularly sharing my plans with others. These conversations grew my network of confidantes, created a safety net of knowledge, and enabled my eventual recovery. What follows is a list of tips to prevent critical illnesses from becoming life-shattering.

Have a power of attorney

When things are going well and you are not giving a second thought to your mortality, plan for your incapacity and death. Having a power of attorney, or other instrument, to designate who might act for you, is vitally important. It enables a trusted person to access your accounts, make decisions on your behalf, and manage your affairs. It may seem trivial before becoming sick, but a person who is helping you must have authorization to access critical information. Otherwise, things as simple as rent and payroll may become disrupted.

Having a lawyer as a power of attorney or designate is helpful, even if they practice in a different area. A lawyer can more seamlessly step into another lawyer’s role as issues like privilege, conflicts, and law firm administration are simpler to navigate. With guidance from the Law Society of British Columbia, a capable lawyer can effectively manage the transitions and support needed for client and business continuity.

Discuss the important stuff

Once the decision has been made about who will act for you and the paperwork designating them is complete, make it a priority to talk to this person about the important stuff. This is not about what big files are going on or where things are at with a particular file. Those sorts of things will work themselves out.

But talk about login information, file locations, key contacts, and backup access. Describe your hopes and dreams, the direction that the firm is headed, and try out scenarios for making tough decisions. Make sure this person understands the glue that holds the law firm together, the tools and processes that make it function, and what it means to step in to act for you.

Let others know

Some areas of practice are highly specialized. A power of attorney may not be the right person to administer a firm and may also need additional expertise for specific practice areas. Take the time to get to know and share with others. Whether it is a mentorship opportunity or a competitor, most people value connection and are supportive and helpful.

Bring others along on your contingency planning. Figure out who might be a good fit for your clients and communicate in advance with them on whether they would be open and willing to take on work in the event of an emergency. Get to know your colleagues, stay in touch with the Law Society, and invest in relationships. The personal challenges of critical illness are hard enough, being prepared for business disruption and having a supportive network helps to alleviate at least some concerns.

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